November 1, 2021

Is Incognito Browsing Really Incognito? Let’s Find Out

Incognito browsing the Google Chrome’s private browsing functionality. Most popular browsers have this particular option when surfing online, bringing a hidden functionality to your web search sessions. If you’re searching under normal conditions (not in private mode), small pieces of data are kept within the browser. These are called cookies, which will record your IP address, specific location, browsing history, sign-ins, and other pieces of identifying information. Private browsing allows web browsing without having as much information stored, but can it provide total anonymity?

Incognito Does Not Mean Invisible Online

Although incognito doesn’t keep the same information as traditional browsing, it’s important to remember it’s not truly anonymous. Specific components of your incognito browsing are still visible to others. These details include any websites you visit (including the sites you’ve viewed in private browsing) and the trackers or ads attached to these websites. Certain websites, like Google or social media, will continue to track your activity online, despite using private browsing. That means your activity on Facebook will still be documented, whether you’re in standard or incognito modes. Likewise, any files, photos, programs, or downloads in the private browser will still show on the computer after usage.

Who can view these details?

Any websites you access in private mode are still visible to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP is the company that you use for internet services. While browsing on a shared network (for example, an airport, library, or coffee shop), anyone on the shared network can pull up your history too. If you’re on a network, through work or school, administrators will still be able to view your browsing history. That means your boss may discover your browsing history, whether you’re in normal browsing or incognito mode.

How Incognito Mode Fails Online Privacy

Incognito mode mainly protects your browsing history from those sharing the same computer. It still keeps your history accessible to your employer or teacher on shared networks. This can make for incredibly embarrassing conversations if you’re accessing inappropriate content on your lunch break. These private viewing modes also fail to prevent digital fingerprinting, a tracking method by websites and browsers that collect confidential information about your browsing online. As the data increases, the level of personalization from search engines and advertising improves too.

How to Establish Privacy That Works

When trying to maintain privacy, it’s crucial to remember critical differences between online privacy or keeping people from seeing your browsing history in person. To protect your local privacy, incognito may be sufficient. If you want to improve your online security, incognito browsing is going to fail overall.

Determine Your Privacy Preferences

Rather than trying to block out everything online, take a few moments to determine your level of comfort. Are you concerned with your online search history being tracked? Do you mind Facebook monitoring your posts or conversations? What if someone wants to read through your emails? Having a starting point with your data security is the first step in protecting your information online.

How to Improve Your Online Privacy While Browsing

One of the first things you can do to protect your online privacy is to determine who’s tracking you. There are multiple websites online that can help you with this (for example, Lightbeam or Disconnect) which will visually show any website tracking happening online. It will also allow users to block or disconnect from these trackers.

Using a VPN

A Virtual Private Network encrypts your data and hides your IP address (which discloses your location online). It works by effectively bouncing your online activity through a chain of servers, keeping your data confidential while you’re browsing the web. For example, if a user is browsing sugar daddy websites online, the internet browser won’t keep data or records of the activity. These servers are located across the country (although they may be closer) to create a new sending point for your information. That means a website may register your activity as starting in Texas one moment and then New York moments later. This obscures your data online and prevents individuals from accessing your personal information. Essentially, you’ll be able to browse the internet securely, safely, and anonymously online using VPN services.

Browsing with the Tor Browser

The Tor Browser (also called the Onion browser) is an anonymous web browser. It uses the Tor network to protect your data online. The browser runs the same way as most online browsers, although it is considerably slower. The platform works by sending your information through a variety of servers across the globe, completely masking your identity online. It consists of a three-layer proxy, sending your IP to random, publicly listed nodes. It then sends your content to a second relay before sending it to a third (the final one) node.

Understanding Incognito Mode on Cell Phones

Similar to traditional browsing, cell phones can use conventional or incognito browsing methods. Incognito mode on cell phones provides the same features as PC methods; they limit the data transferred online while browsing. If you open a private browsing session online, the ISP will still be able to see your browsing history. Additionally, specific social networks will continue to track your activity online (as this is separate from your browsing history).

Although the Tor browser has recently become available for mobile applications, the lowered speed and difficulty in accessing the browsing make it difficult for most cell phone users. It may be easier to use a VPN on Wi-Fi connectivity.

About the author 

Peter Hatch

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